Mark Twain and the Jumping Frogs of Calaveras County
WITH AUDIO ►: Click to open/close audio player then hit the ► play button
by Larry Wood
Rosie has held the record for over thirty years.Up in the Gold Country of California lies the historic little town of Angels Camp, in Calaveras County, that the celebrated American author Mark Twain made world famous with his humorous "tall tale", entitled "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" (text).
Mark Twain not only wrote the story that soon became an American classic, but he also inspired a real jumping frog contest that has become a tradition and almost a legend in itself.
Twain's six page tale -- his first published success -- rapidly established him as an American humorist, and it also brought fame to rural Angels Camp, which still has a small population of only 2,300 people.
People come from everywhere in the spring of each year to enter frogs in the Calaveras Jumping Frog contest, or to watch other frogs competing for prizes ranging from $10 to $1,500. "Jockeying", encouraging your frog to jump as far as he can -- is lots of fun for both entrants in the contest and for spectators. The Jumping Frog Jubilee -- held every third weekend in May at the Calaveras County Fair -- is hailed as one of America's "truly original celebrations".
Mark Twain in the 1860s.All this excitement and fun came about because Samuel Clemens, who wrote under the name of Mark Twain, made a trip from San Francisco to the Gold Country to see a friend in the year 1860. There he heard the story that he retells so well that the reader always laughs, even when he knows the surprise ending.
Twain relates, with humor typical of the early American West, how a scoundrel named Jim Smiley constantly boasted that his big frog named Daniel Webster could "outjump any frog in Cavaleras County". As a matter of fact, Daniel Webster probably could do just that.
However the boastful owner lost his $40 bet when a quiet stranger tricked him and beat him, by getting Webster to swallow down something pretty heavy; so of course, when the contest began, the poor frog couldn't jump at all!
As time went by, Twain's story became more and more famous, and so did the little town of Angels Camp; and so it was that in 1928, the people of the town decided that they really ought to make jumping frogs into a local attraction.
Jumping Frog contests have been held annually ever since, and have become more and more popular each year. People entering frogs now come from all over the world, and last year there were entries from as far away as Malaysia, China, Britain, France, Germany, and all over North America. All had frogs who, they hoped, would win the title of World Record Holder.
The current holder of the title is a famous frog from Santa Clara, California, called Rosie the Ribiter. In 1986, she jumped 21 feet, 5 3/4 inches in three jumps, and no-one has beaten her since.
Every day of the big county fair, there are frog jumping trials; most of the people come along with their own frogs, but if they don't happen to have one of their own, they can always rent a frog for the fee of $3 !
Everyone is very serious about trying to win, but the contest is mostly just lots of fun. What would Mark Twain say now, if he knew what a big thing he had started!
Crazy American FestivalsIf you think jumping frogs is, well, kinda' crazy, please note that the Calaveras County Frog Jumping contest is just one of a whole lot of loony festivals held all over the U.S.A., most of them during the warm months.
Down in Red Bluff, California, they have an annual "wild cow milking contest" as part of the annual rodeo! Now most people find it hard to milk a tame cow! Milking a wild one must be just.... wild!
Several thousand miles away, at Springhill, Florida, they have another strange festival boldly known as the World Chicken Pluckin' Championship! Teams come from all over the world (maybe that's a slight exaggeration), to see who can take the feathers off a chicken fastest; the winners often find themselves with a place in the Guinness Book of Records, since there are not many other places round the world where anyone bothers to time people for their speed in this event!
Up in Rio Grande, Ohio, it's live chickens, not dead ones, that figure at the center of an annual festival. Here they run the "International" Chicken Flying Meet, where people get together to see whose chicken can fly furthest.
And in communities big and small across the USA, there are dozens of other crazy festivals, where folks get together to do extraordinary things! Well, after all, not every town can be chosen for the Olympic Games; and if you want to host an international event, the best way to do so is to invent your own! They say Americans are pretty inventive!
whimsical: curious, unconventional - tall tale: imaginary story - hailed as: acclaimed as - jubilee: celebration - scoundrel: rogue, bad guy - boasted: bragged, claimed proudly - trials: tests - kinda: sort of - loony: crazy - tame: domesticated - wild: bizarre - bothers to: takes the trouble to - to host: to put on.
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Mark Twain and the Jumping FrogsInteractive : Complete the following extract from the text, replacing the missing words or parts of words
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For teachers1. Listening comprehension practice: This exercise will take between 40 minutes and one hour. It can suitably be shortened by taking only half the original text. After students have followed the text through, while listening to the audio file, play the audio file through again paragraph by paragraph, leaving students between 1 and 2 minutes after each paragraph to write down what they have retained from it. When you have gone through the whole text, get students to rewrite the article from their notes, trying to change expressions, while retaining the meaning and the development of the article.
2. Interactive blank-fill exercise: this exercise highlights a variety of points: in some cases it checks vocabulary, in others word endings, in others it is spelling that is tested.
3. Going further: What can your students tell you about Mark Twain? Who was he? When did he live? What are his most famous works? Have students do a short research project on Twain as homework. Perhaps they could also read the Jumping Frog of Calaveras County... though they may find this difficult.
Here is the text of Mark Twain's ► short story . Warning: Twain's story, though short, uses a lot of transliterated spoken English, will be hard reading for twenty-first century students who do not have a very good level of English.
First paragraph: Up in the Gold Country of California lies the historic little town . Note the unusual word order here. This inversion of subject and verb is used for style, and is not wrong, even if it is unusual. This structure is possible with some verbs of state and in this case is a contraction of "Up in the Gold Country of California there lies the historic little town..." Among the few other verbs that can be used with subject-verb inversion after there, are be, stand, grow, appear, seem , though we do not usually find seem and be in the inverted structure without there.
Other examples: In the garden grew a pear tree. On top of the hill stands a large castle.
Sixth paragraph: With humor typical of the American West . Another unusual word order point. The adjective typical is placed after the noun humor, since the adjective is post-modified by the expression of the American West. Though we could write with typical American humor, we could not possibly write with typical of the American West humor.
EFL/ESL or ELA teachers: Help develop this resource by contributing extra teaching materials or exercises.
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